A Wild Ride
Minnesota has looked good the past few seasons but the rest of the Central Division is getting better while the Wild are getting older. Will Ryan Suter be able to get back to playing more minutes than anyone else after off-season surgery? Can Zach Parise stay healthy? The Wild could face some strong adversity this year.
The Wild fared well in terms of team defense and quality shot differential. Goaltending and offensively, the team was closer to average than elite. Overall, a good report card but, as the slogan in Minnesota’s new practice facility says, “Good isn’t good enough” in the Central Division.
What went right:
Eric Staal has really found a second wind in Minnesota. His play was declining in Carolina and he had a poor stint with the New York Rangers before signing with the Wild in the 2016 off-season. He had a solid 65 points that year, but he exploded last season with 42 goals, good for 4th in the NHL, tied with Evgeni Malkin and the most he’s scored in well over a decade. Defensively, Minnesota did a really good job at limiting scoring chances. They were 9th in limiting scoring chances and even better at preventing opponents from reaching the net, allowing the lowest percentage of slot shots to reach the net of anyone in the NHL.
What Went Wrong:
The Wild might be starting to have some buyer’s remorse on Zach Parise. Parise’s points and games played totals have gone down steadily every year since 2014-15 all the way down to 24 points in only 42 games this past year. Already 34-years old and with seven more seasons on his deal, things aren’t likely to get better. Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle also missed time with injuries which, combined with Parise, took a lot of firepower away from Minnesota. Parise did come back in the playoffs, scoring three goals in three games, but ultimately the Wild offense fell flat in their first-round loss to the Jets. Outside of a 6-goal performance in their only win of the series, they could only muster three goals in the four losses, with Staal, in particular, managing only one goal and one assist in five games.
Key Additions: Greg Pateryn, J.T. Brown, Eric Fehr
Key Departures: Tyler Ennis, Matt Cullen, Daniel Winnik
Other Key moves: Re-signed Jason Zucker, Matt Dumba
It was a pretty quiet offseason in the State of Hockey. Minnesota’s most significant moves were new contracts for Jason Zucker and Matt Dumba. Zucker is coming off a career-high 33 goals, while Dumba also hit a career high with 50 points. At 26 and 24-years old, respectively, they should both be entering their prime, so locking them up for five years each was a solid move by the Wild. The rest of Minnesota’s moves were more about replacing depth they lost.
Matt Cullen is still an effective penalty killer at age 41. Daniel Winnik was also a good penalty killer, finishing 3rd among Wild forwards in shorthanded ice-time, while Tyler Ennis was mostly relegated to fourth-line duties and scored 22 points. While they did each fill some valuable roles, they’re not players you would call game changers and the same is true of the players the Wild acquired in their place. Greg Pateryn is the most notable acquisition. He was good at shutting down the blueline, ranking 3rd in zone entry denial rate at even-strength and should be a solid bottom pair player. J.T. Brown had seven points split between stints with the Lightning and Ducks and didn’t play a role on special teams. Eric Fehr only played 14 games, spending most of his time in the AHL.
Next season preview
What could go right?
Since joining the Wild, Devan Dubnyk ranks 4th in save percentage and third in goals-against-average among goalies to play at least 100 games. He also leads the league in shutouts and has the third most wins. Last season was no exception, as he finished 6th in wins and shutouts while finishing 10th in save% and GAA. At 32-years old, he should still have a few solid seasons in him for Minnesota. Jason Zucker, meanwhile, was an offensive force for the Wild. He led the team in scoring chances, inner slot shots and was second in goals with a career-high 33. At 26, he should just be entering his prime, a good sign for Minnesota.
What could go wrong?
Ryan Suter is still very effective entering his age-33 season, but he won’t be able to hold up forever, especially if the Wild continue using him as heavily as they do. Since joining the team before the 2012-13 season, he leads the NHL in total ice time, just two seconds shy of hitting 12,600 total minutes, the only player to average over 28 minutes a game. Coming off ankle surgery, it’s risky to rely on him for big minutes once again, especially as he ages. There’s also concern on how likely a repeat performance from Eric Staal is. He hit a career-high in shooting percentage and scored 40 goals for only the third time in his 14-year career. Staal will turn 34 in late October, not typically an age where forwards reach new career highs. With Zach Parise already slowed down by injuries, losing production from Staal would be a big blow to their offense.